On the night of Feb. 10, the entirety of the Westerville Division of Police force gathered in the council chambers of the city's municipal building to talk.

A few hours earlier, the department lost officers Eric Joering, 39, and Anthony Morelli, 54, who died of wounds sustained in a shooting after they responded to a 911 hang-up call and a possible domestic violence situation in the 300 block of Cross Wind Drive. Quentin Lamar Smith, 30, of Cross Wind Drive has been charged with two counts of aggravated murder in the case. 

Joering and Morelli were the first two officers to be killed in the line of duty in Westerville's history, according to Matt Dole, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio.

Police Chief Joseph Morbitzer said that between the shooting, which happened around 11:30 a.m. Feb. 10, and that night, every member of the department's staff was in the office -- they all wanted to help.

At the meeting, Morbitzer said he just wanted the group to come together. Less than 12 hours after the deaths of Joering and Morelli, the pain of the loss was as fresh as possible. Morbitzer said he didn't take the lead, and instead tried to let everyone talk in a kind of "group session."

"There is no rank in a meeting like that," he said. "We're all hurting as bad as each other, so you just try to help each other through. You just want to help people deal with it, no matter who you or they are. They become very personal."

Morbitzer said the details of that meeting will remain private, but the sentiment of togetherness that united the group is something that has spread throughout Westerville since the shooting.

In the days that followed the shooting, Morbitzer said he was "overwhelmed" by the response from the city and other central Ohio communities.

Within hours, he said, officers from other area departments were in Westerville trying to be helpful.

"They would just show up at our building and go 'What do you need? What can we do?' " he said.

Days later, most of Westerville had turned blue as people had tied commemorative blue ribbons all around town. Multiple vigils had been held in honor of Joering and Morelli, and the entire city was being policed by officers from all around Ohio.

But what affected Morbitzer the most was the way Westerville came together during those days, he said.

He said he was floored by the "#WestervilleStrong" movement, and couldn't believe the support the city provided his department.

"When you look at these two and a half weeks, and you look at this town, no place in the United States is like this," he said. "In no place would they support us like they have. In no place would they turn out like they have."

Even with that support, Morbitzer said the task of moving forward has been a daunting one for him and his staff.

Before he joined the Westerville division in 1986, Morbitzer worked with the Franklin County Sheriff's Office. He said he knew of officers dying on the job at the county level, but the experiences couldn't be more different.

"We were a very tight-knit group of people before this, just because of the size of the organization ... so it's not a corporate feel, where someone in your 30,000-employee company dies," he said. "It's a family feel."

With that sense of family comes an extra amount of burden for Morbitzer, who said he feels responsibility for the lives lost.

"Ultimately, you're responsible," he said. "So you've just got to come to grips with that."

But that feeling also makes inexplicable parts of the grieving process -- especially at a police station -- more staggering.

"You're never totally prepared for some of the stuff that comes up," Morbitzer said.

"If you had told me that we would have to screen mail to the family because they're getting hate mail or that we have to have other techs in our radio room to screen calls because we're getting hate calls, I never would have thought of that. I never even would have thought of it," he said.

It's that sense of conflict that makes it difficult for Morbitzer to decide how he feels about compliments his department receives, he said.

While he said he's taken great pride in the way his team has handled the tragedy, he feels "almost embarrassed" to say anything positive.

"I've never been more proud of this department than I have been over the last two weeks because of how they've been, but I've never hated it more," he said. "That kind of doesn't make sense.

"I'm proud of everything everyone has done, I'm proud of the way we've taken care of the families, but I've never hated this more -- hated why it's happened."

Morbitzer may hate the way #WestervilleStrong came to be, but he said he'll spend the rest of his career trying to ensure the sentiment of unity doesn't go anywhere.

He said he's gone through every step of the grieving process -- sometimes more than once -- but is taking his strength from the memory of Joering and Morelli.

Sitting in his office, Morbitzer said he still expects to see Joering walk in with his K-9 officer, Sam. After hours, he said he has a hard time shaking the memory of heavy metal blaring from the department's gym as the relentlessly fit Morelli worked out.

Morbitzer's hope isn't for those memories to fade, he said, instead, he hopes he and his staff have what it takes to live up to the legacy of two men whose character he says he cannot overstate.

"I will guarantee you, Tony Morelli and Eric Joering wouldn't be saying, 'Hey, sit out and take it easy for me,'" he said. "They'd be like, 'We need to get moving here.' "

After the experience he and his department have had since the shooting, Morbitzer said Westerville police will be the first to show up at the next department that needs help.

"Should this happen anywhere else, we will be there," he said. "For what was given to us, we will pay that back big time. We can't even begin to thank the hundreds of thousands of people who have shown support for this organization."

Morbitzer isn't quite sure what the "new normal" looks like for his department.

He said the shooting incident will stay with everyone in the department, from new officers who were learning from Joering and Morelli to veterans who considered them family. Now, he said, it's up to the remaining officers to decide "how we adjust to things" in a way that would make Joering and Morelli proud.

"I think this becomes a part of your life and your department," Morbitzer said. "You can't change it. ... When you look here, it's family. You've lost a family member. Will I think about it every day? I don't know. But I know that every single person here has changed from it."



Remembering Officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering fromCity of Westerville onVimeo.

Vimeo video courtesy of the city of Westerville